It ended up being a costly trip, in several ways
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has struck off the former Managing Partner of Reed Smith's Athens office, after finding he had been dishonest when the firm investigated him over expenses.
The tribunal heard that office managing partner, George Panagopoulos, had taken a four-day trip with his daughter from Athens to London in 2019, where he claimed €3,000 in expenses, which included flights, taxis and a hotel stay at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall.
Panagopoulos said that he had planned a business meeting for the trip, but it didn't end up taking place.
Reed Smith investigated the expenses and held a disciplinary meeting with Panagopoulos in 2020. The SRA alleged that, prior to the meeting, the shipping specialist altered billing documents to suggest that the personal expenses should not be charged to the client accounts.
At the tribunal hearing, Panagopoulos denied knowingly charging the costs of his daughter's part of the trip, and said his secretary was to blame for mistakenly charging the client account, due to a miscommunication. He also denied acting dishonestly in amending documents prior to the firm's investigation.
In the tribunal's judgment, published this week, the panel found that it was not proved that Panagopoulos had asked his secretary to bill clients for the city break.
However, the tribunal found that Panagopoulos (a solicitor of almost 23 years) had breached the firm’s trust by being untruthful during the investigation. It found that the partner deliberately altered the billing reports, and had attempted to "obfuscate" his charging of personal expenses to the firm.
The tribunal said that although the lawyer had "stated that he considered that when expenses were not charged to a client, they would automatically be charged to him personally", he also "stated that the marketing budget for the Athens office was for him to use as he saw fit, and was effectively 'part of his package'." The tribunal said this demonstrated "a cavalier attitude to the appropriate treatment of expenses."
"He was an extremely experienced solicitor who was aware of the import of not amending documents that were, or might be, relevant to an investigation," said the tribunal.
The tribunal added that the lawyer's dishonesty was "deliberate and calculated" and that he had "abused his position of trust and authority" and sought to blame the misconduct on his secretary.
The SDT said there were no exceptional circumstances that would have justified anything less than a strike-off for the solicitor.
Panagopoulos' solicitor provided a statement to RollOnFriday: "Dr Panagopoulos finds the decision extraordinary and respectfully disagrees with the findings of the SDT. He does not believe he acted dishonestly or with an intention to deceive."
"Moreover, the main allegation regarding the expenses was not established and in the view of Dr Panagopoulos the findings against him arose from circumstantial miscommunications and misunderstandings, in relation to documents he was not in any way relying on."
"Moreover, Dr Panagopoulos views the sanction disproportionate to the particular circumstances of the case."
Reed Smith declined to comment.